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ICE Air data reveals who is flying in and out of Mesa

By: - August 7, 2019 3:44 pm

Photo by Dave Montiverdi | Flickr/CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

From Oct. 1, 2010 to Sept. 28, 2018, Immigration and Customs Enforcement has flown more than 189,000 migrants out of the Phoenix-Mesa Gateway airport. 

The data analyzed by the Arizona Mirror comes from the University of Washington, which compiled it from FOIA requests of the agency’s data portal on its program dubbed ICE Air. 

ICE Air is a term coined for a network of airline operators who assist Immigration and Customs Enforcement with deportation flights and detainee transfer flights. 

One of those operators is Phoenix-based Swift Air, who operates out of the airport which also acts as one of ICE’s five air operation hubs with Mesa as its home base. 

The data covers fiscal years 2011 through most of 2018, and reveals the kind of people who pass through ICE’s airline. 

Approximately 90 percent percent of the passengers were men. Less than half-a-percent were children. 

Of the 189,000-plus passengers of ICE Air who came through Mesa, 91,946 ,or 48 percent, had the airport listed as their drop-off point. 

Approximately 47 percent of all the passengers aboard ICE Air during the timeframe of the data were residents of Guatemala. Mexico only made up 7 percent of flights to and from the Phoenix-Mesa Gateway airport. 

Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, Mexico, Haiti and India are the main countries of origin for ICE Air passengers to and from Arizona. Mexican nationals are often deported in chartered buses, which drop them off it border towns and cities in Mexico. 

The data also shows that there appears to have been a period of time when flights slowed slightly. Between 2013 and 2015, flights dipped from more than 18,500 to about 10,000. The trend shifted upward in 2016, and flights have been on the rise ever since and are currently at the highest levels ever. 

In 2018, there were over 21,000 non-criminal flights. 

Overall, the majority of the detainees aboard ICE Air are non-criminal, meaning they had no criminal convictions or criminal records. Non-criminal flights outnumbered criminal flights two-to-one. 

Another number that has decreased since 2011 but recently appears to be on the rise is the number of migrants dropped off in Mesa. 

In 2011, ICE dropped off more than 15,000 people at the Phoenix-Mesa Gateway airport. That number continued to decline to 7,700 in 2015, but began climbing again in 2016. In 2018, ICE Air dropped off 11,500 people. 

The number for 2018 could be higher, as the data only goes until October 2018. 

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Jerod MacDonald-Evoy
Jerod MacDonald-Evoy

Reporter Jerod MacDonald-Evoy joins the Arizona Mirror from the Arizona Republic, where he spent 4 years covering everything from dark money in politics to Catholic priest sexual abuse scandals. Jerod has also won awards for his documentary films which have covered issues such as religious tolerance and surveillance technology used by police. He brings strong watchdog sensibilities and creative storytelling skills to the Arizona Mirror.